By Merle Exit
The late-19th-century coming-of-age classic “Little Women” was a landmark in highlighting the increasingly independent identity of the American woman. A new production by Royal Star Theatre aims to do much the same in spotlighting the talents of women in community theater.
“Little Women: the Musical” takes Louisa May Alcott’s beloved tale of the March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — growing up during and after the Civil War, and sets it to music, but it is not common fare for local productions. While most community theater groups rely on well-known productions, director Erik Neilssen chose “Little Women the Musical” both as a challenge, and because it has a predominantly female cast.
“We strive to pick a show that everyone else isn’t doing,” said Neilssen. “Community theater has a huge talent of women that tend to play second fiddle to a male cast.”
The play is running this Saturday and Sunday as well as May 5-7 at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Neillsen enjoyed the opportunity to showcase local female talent, both established and new.
“I have had the opportunity to work with many of these actors before,” Neilssen said. “One of newcomers is Jordana Keller, a teenage girl who takes on the role of the younger Amy.” Amy is the youngest of the sisters. “She is phenomenal at taking on directions very well and the willingness to try new things.”
Alex Jameson portrays the older Amy, who is introduced in Act II, and Neilssen pointed to her unusually wide range.
“In last year’s production of ‘Spamalot,’ Alex took on three male roles,” he said. “She is a great talent and has an excellent singing voice.”
Lisa Bondi, who portrays the central character, Jo March, really has to carry the show, according to Neilssen.
“Bondi has been on the community theater scene for a while. She sings 13 to 14 songs, of which some of them are ballads, closing Act I all by herself, as well as closing the show alone,” he said. “Lisa, herself is a strong and independent woman, bringing some parts of herself to the role.”
Donna Falcon, who portrays Aunt March, the over-bearing matron who is the rich great-aunt of the March sisters, plays well above her true age.
“Falcon, who is much younger than the character, brings out this old craft with such humor,” Neilssen said. “She has some great songs that show off her voice.”
Ellen Armet, another established talent, accepted Neilssen’s challenge to play a comic role, and shines as Mrs. Kirk, who runs the New York boarding house where Jo meets her eventual husband, Professor Bhaer.
“Although she appears very little in the play, she steals the stage with a big scene in Act II with her non-verbal comedy,” Neilssen said. “At first Ellen was unsure of taking on this comic role. I had worked with her many times with other community theater groups.”
One actor was cast in Neilssen’s mind before he even held auditions: Kim Guarino as Marmee.
“I have to admit that when I listened to the soundtrack, I would hear Kim’s voice when I would hear Marmee sing,” he said. “I have worked with her before and seen her as an actress. This is some of her best singing and in portraying a single mother in the 1860s is taking on a challenging role.”
The bottom line, according to Neilssen, is that this production of “Little Women” features some big talent.
“I’ve never had a cast of 12 people that are working at such capacity to make this show a hit,” Neilssen said. “I believe that we will impress a lot of people.”
The Royal Star Theatre in Jamaica Estates theater is located at Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy Auditorium, 179-14 Dalney Road.